Ted Peck

Outdoors talk with certified Merchant Marine Captain Ted Peck.

Morel mushrooms spring up all over

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Ted Peck
Sunday, May 18, 2014

Today might be the best day of the entire year to find a nice mess of mushrooms.

The undeniable force of May sunshine tore the claws out of a stubborn winter faster than a propane torch would move a fat cat off of a couch (not that any sane individual would even consider this method of feline displacement).

The point is those folks who wait another week to chase the elusive morel will find it difficult to locate these fragrant fungi under the exploding canopy of other flora.

Morel hunting is all about soil temperature. In a “normal” year, the smaller gray morels pop up along the edges of open meadows and near hilltops with the greatest exposure to spring sunshine a week before the tall yellow cones appear.

Some years it takes several weeks before the sun warms the soil enough to make mushrooms pop on other exposures farther down hill and finally in shady valleys where mosquitoes grow to the size of crows.

This year, we went from preheat to broil almost overnight. Morels are everywhere. The yellow towers will be huge by next week—but the mayapples they are hiding under will be taller.

Fish have not been so quick to respond. But thermodynamics are changing the paradigm in the water column, too.

The shallow waters in Moon Valley and other niches of Lake Wisconsin are among the first places where huge crappies gather to spawn near wood and structures such as boat docks. They showed up here Tuesday. Today I'm guessing they are already gone.

Crappies usually move shallow to spawn on Yellowstone Lake near Argyle and Crystal Lake near Lodi about the same time they show up around those pontoon boats moored on Lake Wisconsin.

The bite gets hot on Waubesa and Kegonsa about a week after that. If you check the celestial calendar you might discover this is happening today.

On opening weekend, the water temperature on the Madison chain was a frigid 47. Last week, there were some areas where the temperature was only tickling 60 degrees.

A major cold front that pushed through the area late last week and this week slowed both the bite and warming trend. During the last 24 hours or so, the May sun started making up for lost time.

In many ways this spring is shaping up like last year—high water and low temperatures one day, T-shirt weather the next. Last year, the high water was a factor through June.

Fish adapted accordingly. Many anglers did not.

Today's electronics were inconceivable less than 10 years ago. Those anglers who have matured to the point where they can secure huge loans during this time frame tend to rely more on technology than the conventional wisdom Grandpa shared.

For the next few weeks, the most valuable electronic tool in your boat will be the surface temperature gauge.

Fish are cold-blooded creatures. They respond to basic stimuli. Right now, most warm-water species like bass, bluegills and crappies are looking for the warmest water they can find to spawn.

Your boat's sensitive electronics might say there are no fish under you in six feet of water. The fancy side-scan feature on some units might indicate fish icons in even shallower water.

The best way to confirm the presence of fish is by making a cast. You can't catch any fish with your line out of the water or find morels kicking back on the couch.

If a fat cat is already flaked out on the family divan, the aroma of pan-fried crappies will goad him to investigate. A propane torch will get the cat to move, too.

Consider this pearl from the fount of old-guy wisdom before choosing which path to take: People seldom call the fire department because they've done something smart.

Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at tedpeck@acegroup.cc.

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